Tag Archives: food

7 Tips for Having a Happy Thanksgiving with Your Difficult Relatives.

In the United States, Thanksgiving is approaching.

For many people, Thanksgiving is a joyous holiday; for many people, Thanksgiving is a dreaded holiday. One factor that can make it tough is spending time with difficult relatives. Here are some strategies for keeping Thanksgiving dinner — or any holiday gathering, at any time of the year — pleasant:

1. Before you join the group, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave. Don’t just react in the moment; consider how you want to act — in every way from how you’re going to talk to Uncle Bob to how much dessert you’re going to eat.  This is using the Strategy of Safeguards: plan ahead, anticipate challenges, think about what you want.

2. Remember that topics that seem innocuous to you might upset someone else. You may think you’re showing a polite interest, but some questions will rub a person the wrong way: “So do you have a boyfriend yet?” “When are you two going to get married/start a family?” “Didn’t you give up smoking?” “Can you afford that?” “When are you going to get a real job?” Show an interest with more open-ended questions, like “What are you up to these days?” or “What’s keeping you busy?” Also…

3. Avoid strife. Some families enjoy arguing passionately; however, most don’t handle arguments very well. If you know Uncle Bob’s views on the recent election are going to drive you crazy, don’t bring it up! And if he brings it up, you don’t have to engage. Try to make a joke of it, and say something like, “Let’s agree to disagree,” “Let’s not talk about that, and give the rest of the family something to be thankful for,” etc. There is absolutely a time and a place for political debate, but Thanksgiving may not be the best time for that.

4. Play your part in the tradition. For some people, traditions are very, very important; for others, no. You may feel irritated by your brother’s insistence on having exactly the same food every Thanksgiving, or by your mother’s extreme reaction to the possibility that you might not come home for the day. Try to be patient and play your part. In the long run, traditions and rituals tend to help sustain happiness and family bonds. On the other hand, if you’re the one who wants everything to be perfect, try to ease up on yourself and everyone else, so that you can enjoy the day, whatever happens.

5. Don’t drink much alcohol. It can seem festive and fun to fill up your glass, but it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking. Alcohol makes some people feel merry, but it also makes some people feel combative, or self-pitying, or lowers their inhibitions in a destructive way. I basically had to give up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent.

6. Don’t stuff yourself. Research shows that in fact, most people add just one pound during the holidays – but then they never lose it. You’ll have more fun if you’re not feeling uncomfortably full and then guilty about having eaten too much. Think about strategies for staying in control of holiday eating; feeling bad about having eaten too much can make you feel irritable and angry, which spills over into your interactions with other people.

Note on #5 and #6 — on the other hand, if people tell you, “No more wine for me, thanks,” or “I’m going to skip dessert tonight,” don’t press them to partake. Don’t lead them into temptation, if they’re trying to eat or drink in a way that’s healthy for them. It can feel loving and festive to urge people to indulge, but they’ll be happier in the long run if they do what’s right for them.

7. Remember it’s THANKSGIVING. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster.

Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don’t tell you how to deal with your difficult relatives — they tell you how to behave yourself. Well, guess what! You can’t do anything to change what your difficult relatives are going to do; you can only change yourself.

Also, in many situations, people behave a difficult way in reaction to something else. So you may think your niece flies off the handle without any reason, but she’s furious because she thinks you’re needling her about her appearance. If you behave differently, she will too.

Have you found any helpful strategies for dealing with a difficult holiday situation? What more would you add?

Podcast 79: Revive a Dormant Friendship, a Selection of Yearbook Quotes, and a Gold Star for Making Phone Calls.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: It’s almost September, and for many of us, September is the other January. If you get a clean slate, start-over feeling in September, check out my book Happier at Home. I spend a school year — from September though May — going deep into the project of becoming happier at home. If you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy.

Try This at Home: Revive a dormant friendship.

I promised to post a photo of Elizabeth’s Smith and Noble window treatments, but Elizabeth decided that her house just looks too torn up — she doesn’t want to send a photo yet! The window treatments are the only thing accomplished at this point.

Happiness Hack: Todd asks, “Our household receives a lot of reading material in the mail, but we never know when everyone’s done reading something, so don’t know when to throw things away. Any ideas?”

Deep Dive: In episode 74, we suggested the Try This at Home of “Pick a quotation for your senior yearbook page.” Listeners sent in their choices — so many great ones.

Listener Question:  Jenny asks, “Can an Abstainer indulge in chocolate, in moderation?” Jenny is asking about the Abstainer vs. Moderator distinction — and here’s a post about planned exceptions.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth has fallen behind on her pledge on GoodReads to read 75 books this year. If you want to work on the habit of reading more, you can get my one-page “Reading Better Than Before” guide here.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I managed to make some phone calls.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. Tune in this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And if you want to take the Four Tendencies quiz, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, it’s here.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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Also check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 25% off window treatments and a free in-home design consultation.

And don’t forget to check out Trunk Club. Get hand-picked outfits shipped right to your door–chosen by your very own personal stylist. Go to TrunkClub.com/happier to learn more.

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #79

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5 Tips to Deal with Insomnia

Recently I had a bad night of tossing and turning. I was up for a few hours, then overslept the next morning.

And while I was lying there, unable to sleep, I knew I was violating some of the beat-the-insomnia advice that experts give. Though, true, to give myself credit, I was following some advice.

These tips were on my mind, because I’d just read Andrea Petersen’s Wall Street Journal piece “Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia Blues.”

I violated one of the most basic back-to-sleep tips — the tip to get up, rather than toss and turn.

If you have trouble with insomnia, here are some of the tips from the article:

1. If you’re wide awake, get up.

I just kept lying there thinking, “I should get up.” Somehow, I couldn’t muster the energy to get up. I would’ve been a little cold, when I got out from under the covers, and I didn’t feel like reading my book…so I just stayed put.  Bad idea.

2. I love this tip: If you watch TV, wear sunglasses.

Hilarious! It helps to block the light that will mess up your circadian rhythm. I couldn’t watch TV during my insomnia because (this is embarrassing to admit) my family and I were staying in a rental house, and I didn’t know how to turn on the TV.  TV-watching is so confusing these days. If I’d been wide awake, I could’ve figured out how to manage the TV, but I couldn’t face the challenge in the middle of the night.

3. Don’t eat.

make a point not to eat between dinner and breakfast, as a habit for healthy eating, but the article makes an interesting additional argument: middle-of-the-night eating can condition you to keep doing it in the future. I was reminded of a dog-training story I just read: a couple  had trouble because their dog kept waking them up in the middle of the night to eat. Turned out that the dog had been conditioned to do that, because they’d had a new baby, and the father was getting up to the feed the baby, and at the same time, he gave the dog a snack. The baby started sleeping through the night, but the dog still wanted the snack.

4. Don’t sleep late the next morning.

Which I did, by accident.  Usually I set my alarm, and I really don’t know why I forgot to set it that night. Bad timing, but fortunately, I slept well the next night.

5. If you get up, keep lights dim.

I’m good about doing this. It really does help. When we moved into our apartment, I was careful to make sure to put dimmable lights in the bathroom.

Interesting fact I learned: “Waking up–and staying up–in the middle of the night is more common than having trouble falling asleep.

I wrote more sleep-related tips here: 14 tips for getting more sleep–and why it matters. I’m a sleep zealot!  I’ve learned through tough experience that it’s hard to be happy, and to stick to my good habits, when I’m exhausted. In fact, “sleep” is one of the key habits for the Strategy of Foundation that I write about in Better Than Before. If you want to change a habit — any habit — getting enough sleep is a key first step.

Do you have any good tips for battling insomnia?

7 Tips for Helping Someone Else to Change a Habit.

In my book Better Than Before, I write about the many strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. There’s a big menu of choices, which is great, because it means that we all have a variety from which to pull. Some strategies work for some people, but not others. Some strategies are available to us at certain times, but not other times.

In Better Than Before, I focus mostly on what we can do, ourselves, to change our habits. But it’s very obvious that each of us can have a lot of influence on other people’s habits.  And often we really, really, really want to help someone else to change a key habit.

So, if you want to help someone else to change an important habit (and I’ve certainly tried to do this myself, many times, in my loving habits-bully way), here are a few top strategies to try:

  1. The Strategy of the Four Tendencies. Figure out if the person is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. You can read about the framework here; take the online quiz here. This is a crucial step, because once you know a person’s Tendency, the approach that works with an Obliger might make things worse with a Rebel. Chiefly…
  2. The Strategy of Accountability. This strategy is helpful for many people, but it’s crucial for Obligers, and often counter-productive for Rebels. A key point about other people and accountability? If someone asks you to hold him or her accountable, do it — and if you don’t want to do it yourself (because it can be a lot of work to hold someone accountable), help that person find other mechanisms of accountability. If a person asks for accountability, it’s because that person knows that it’s important. Many people — Upholders like me, and Questioners, and Rebels — often resist holding others accountable, but it can be invaluable.
  3. The Strategy of Convenience. Make the habit more convenient. We’re powerfully influenced by how easy it is to do something. You can help by making a habit quicker and easier. Can you leave a pill out on a dish by the coffee machine, so your sweetheart takes it every morning? Can you keep a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge to be an easy, healthy snack? Can you pull out a pile of board books, clear off the sofa, and say, “Would it be fun for you to read to  the baby for a few minutes?” Can you allow a child to keep an instrument, music stand, and music out in the living room all the time, so all those things don’t need to be pulled out and put away with every practice session?
  4. The Strategy of Treats. Whether or not a person needs accountability (see #2), activities are often more fun when we do them with someone else. Will someone enjoy a walk more, if you go, as well?  Is it more fun for that person to cook if you’re in the kitchen, or you go shopping, too?
  5. The Strategy of Clarity. When it’s not clear exactly what we’re supposed to do, we often get paralyzed and do nothing. Can you keep track of the medication schedule or the physical therapy regimen for someone else?
  6. The Strategy of Safeguards. With our habits, it helps to plan for failure. You can help someone else to anticipate difficult circumstances, and to come up with an “if-then” plan of action — whether for the holidays, for the office party, for the vacation, for the bad weather, or whatever it might be. Research shows that people do much better when they have a plan for dealing with these kinds of stumbling blocks.
  7. The Strategy of Distinctions. We’re more alike, and less alike, than we think. One difference is the Abstainer vs. Moderator approach to strong temptation. Abstainers find it easier to give things up altogether; Moderators like to indulge in moderation. Say your sweetheart wants to cut back on sugar, but you want to keep ice cream in the fridge. You say, “Just have a small serving, learn to manage yourself.” Ah, that works for Moderators. But if your sweetheart is an Abstainer, he or she will find it far easier to have none — and it’s easier to have none if there’s no ice cream in the house. So, even if you don’t find it difficult to ignore that container in the freezer, your sweetheart might do much better if you go out for ice cream if you have a craving.

You might be thinking, “Well, the problem with these ideas is that I have to do something.” That’s right. Sometime we have to make an effort ourselves, to help someone else change a habit. And even if you think that these steps aren’t “your job” — but we can always choose to do something out of love, to help someone else.

Have you found a way to help someone else change a habit? We can all learn from each other.

Video: “I Travel All the Time,” and the Lack-of-Control Loophole for Habits.

In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

What is a “loophole?”

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Seventh of ten loopholes: Lack of Control loophole.

This is a very popular loophole. We argue that we don’t have control over the situation, and circumstances have forced us to break a habit. However, usually we have more control than we admit.

 

Lack of Control Loophole Examples

The dog ate my homework.

Alcoholics can quit drinking, and smokers can quit smoking, but I can’t quit eating. (I can’t quit eating, but I can quit eating sugar, or grains, or processed food.)

I’m too stressed to deal with this now.

I travel all the time.

The subway always makes me late.

This snack has been specially engineered by the food industry to be irresistible.

My favorite trainer quit.

My kids take up all my time.

The church’s annual Fathers’ Day Breakfast has always been all-you-can-eat.

We opened a bottle of wine, so we have to finish it.

Do you ever find yourself invoking the Lack of Control loophole? It’s super-sneaky, in my experience. Very easy to invoke without even realizing it.

Did you notice that in the video, my example of the “irresistible food” is Froot Loops? Get the joke?